Immortality: A Book That I Missed

Back in 1998, I was only a few years past my first moment of wakefulness:

One day, you wake up to realize that a particularly vital assumption about the world is wrong. Everyone who buys into it is wrong. Which is almost everyone in the world. Everything in the world that depends on it is wrong. Which is almost everything in the world. Now what? ... So, one day, you wake up to realize that aging is the worse bane suffered by humanity, and the people of the world sleepwalk through an unending holocaust of suffering and death caused by the decay of their bodies. Furthermore, it quickly becomes apparent that large-scale work over a few decades will plausibly lead to medical technologies that prevent age-related frailty, disease and death. Acceptance of aging in this circumstance is like a slow-motion mass suicide, day after day after day.

To do nothing in the face of this was unacceptable, but I spent those first years stuck in the morass that was (back then at least) any attempt to find useful information about the state of medical technology, aging science, and the future of human longevity. Of course there was also the matter of figuring out, in between dealing with life's hideous slings and arrows, just what it was I was going to do about it all. How could I meaningfully contribute? It took a while before the Longevity Meme coalesced from those experiences.

In 1998, whilst I wandered amongst the blind, Ben Bova published a book called Immortality: How Science Is Extending Your Life Span - and Changing The World. I didn't read it then, and in fact only recently noticed that it even existed. But you should take a look, because it encapsulates many of the same arguments, predictions, and positions put forward by longevity advocates in the years since:

Do you want to live to be 200? How about 500? Maybe forever? Ben Bova, famed science fiction author and futurist, predicts that within the lifetimes of many people alive in 1998, molecular biology and genetics will reveal the secrets of cellular immortality, freeing people of the "threescore years and ten" most of us are allotted. Further, Bova asserts in Immortality, we will be living those long lives in healthy, youngish bodies, subject only to death by accident. To back up this claim, Bova offers a nice, clear overview of how genetics has come to the brink of science fiction, made accessible to readers unfamiliar with the terminology through the use of explanatory sidebars and basic definitions. If you find yourself doubting this prediction, two things might make you reassess your opinion: (1) Ben Bova was right when he foretold the advent of the Internet, solar-powered satellites, electronic books, and many other wonders of the 20th century, and (2) in an extraordinary 50-year time line, he shows how fast and furious technological developments have come - including things that would have been deemed impossible mere months before they happened. After showing how science is laying the groundwork for achieving incredible human longevity, Immortality examines the ways society, government, the environment, and personal responsibility might change in the face of it. No pessimist or technophobe, Bova assures us that immortal people will (by necessity) become more farsighted and thoughtful about their lives and the lives of others.

These points were being made before Bova's publication in transhumanist and other futurist forums since the advent of the internet, and by forward looking thinkers even before that. But it's worth remembering that this past decade of advances in longevity science, many new publications on engineered longevity, a growth in advocacy for healthy life extension, and multi-million dollar fundraising by organizations such as the Methuselah Foundation didn't just materialize from nothing. It's another link in a chain that stretches back for a good number of years.

Comments

I've read the book 12 years ago and more recently.
Ben Bova is too optimistic . even the Rich individuals will not extend their lives indefinitely in the next half a century. As for the author himself-- his was born in 1932, so he is now 78 years "young"--his chance is practically zero that he willbe immortal

Posted by: nikki at April 20th, 2010 4:28 PM

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